BOCC allows pay increase, 609-acre land purchase

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) held its regular meeting on Tuesday, touching on pay increases, public art and land conservation. 

The following is a roundup of some of the top items. 

County employee compensation increase 

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Prompted by inflation levels, the county decided to advance a pay increase for employees instead of waiting until the end of the fiscal year in October when raises usually happen. 

Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman said the raise would be $1,000 a year to each employee’s salary, but because the county is halfway through the fiscal year, employees will see $500 in the six months left.

“To be clear, we are not asking for anything,” Lieberman said. “We are trying to give them compensation without anything in return.” 

She said the increase still needs to go through the unions, but the county expects no difficulties. 

The total financial impact to the county for this year’s budget is $1.3 million, covering all county employees and constitutional officer’s employees. 

Lieberman also said the raise is permanent and won’t expire when the fiscal year ends. 

Assistant County Manager Tommy Crosby said the money will come out of the county’s fund balance which has grown from when he first came on board, jumping from roughly $8 million to $40 million. 

The commission voted unanimously to approve the raise which will kick in on the first full pay period of April. 

The Lochloosa Creek runs through the county's proposed land purchase.

Approval of $1.7 million for land purchase

The BOCC unanimously voted to approve the use of $1.7 million for the potential purchase of 609 acres in eastern Alachua County just above Lochloosa Lake.

Other conservation lands encompass the tract on three sides, including an Alachua County Forever (ACF) preserve. If purchased, ACF would manage the new property as well. 

Charlie Houder, Land Conservation and Management director, said the county plans to close on Aug. 4 after due diligence. 

He added that the contract will allow the current owner to harvest a 45-acre area of planted pine trees on the property before the sale—a loss the price tag reflects. 

The county funds will primarily be used for the $.55 million land purchase, with $141,000 used for due diligence. The county also included a 10 percent contingency in case the final survey bumps up the acreage. 

However, Houder said that contingency would return to the county if it isn’t needed. He added that three appraisals, two by the county and one by the landowner, support the purchase price.  

Once bought, the land will be included in the Phifer Flatwoods Preserve. 

In January, Alachua County Forever signed its largest single land agreement to date at $10.5 million. Nearly a year ago, the county purchased another 4,000-acre property for more than $10 million. 

Examples of the type of plants at the county's proposed property purchase.

Fire station mural

After a call to artists, county staff presented three mural options to the BOCC for Fire Station 40. The commissioners voted to approve the mural recommended by Alachua County Fire Rescue Chief (ACFR) Harold Theus and submitted by Visionary Fam. 

The county has budgeted $17,305 as the ceiling price. 

Resolution opposing HB 1557

The BOCC passed a resolution that opposes House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights In Education. The bill has sparked nationwide attention and gained the name “Don’t Say Gay Bill” by opponents. 

The county’s resolution brought public comment both for and against the resolution, but ultimately the bill’s fate remains with DeSantis.

The commission would also send a letter asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the bill, and the county’s contracted lobbyist—Tom Griffin—said other counties have done the same. 

Griffin presented a rundown of important bills that passed this session in Tallahassee, including the local bill that will place a ballot initiative in Alachua County. In response to Commissioner Mary Alford, Griffin said the bill has yet to be delivered to DeSantis. 

Once the bill is sent, the governor will have 15 days to sign or veto, and Griffin predicted the bill will be sent soon. However, he said the governor and the Legislature could wait until closer to the July 1 start date of the bill.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Tommy Crosby’s name. 

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